Edinburgh aside, my August theatregoing has been sporadic, but here are a few shows I’ve seen recently that are worth catching if you can, especially now that the late summer sunshine seems to have abandoned us. As usual, I list them below in closing date order.
If you follow me on Twitter (@TerriPaddock) – please do! – you’ll be able to see my #theatreselfies and initial reactions from my every trip to the theatre. Scroll down to see the tweets for these shows collated below.
I loved Invincible at the St James Theatre so leapt at the chance to see this earlier Torben Betts play. Like Invincible, Muswell Hill was premiered at south London’s Orange Tree Theatre, which has become akin to Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre for this protégée of Alan Ayckbourn.
Also like Invincible, Muswell Hill – as its title makes even more obvious – centres on middle-class Londoners, asks questions about creativity and assessing talent (here, it’s a would-be novelist rather than a would-be painter) and employs an excruciating dinner party as a jumping-off point.
Dramatically, Muswell Hill isn’t as accomplished as Invincible and its characters nowhere near as rounded, though standout performances from Annabel Bates and Alastair Natkiel do make you sympathise with party hostess Jess and her partner’s socially inept friend Simon. And you can’t help but squirm as Betts holds up a mirror to the pettiness of our “first world” problems in the face of real disasters like the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Roger Mortimer-Smith directs.
He studied English. I mostly studied the emptiness of my own soul.
You’re too sexually alluring to be entirely boring.
Mr Shit, can I possibly introduce you to Mr Fan?
I suppose he is quite good-looking, in a Ted Bundy kind of way.
How can educated people be so naïve?
I just do what I do best.
Yes, but not what’s best to do.
Wow! I just saw this one-man musical, written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, at the St James Studio last night and I cannot rave about it highly enough.
It’s the help that we give, it’s the love that we live
It’s our pride in the friendships we form
It’s the courage we show facing things we don’t know
It’s the way that we weather the storm.
In The Lion, Benjamin performs 15 songs on six guitars to tell a 30-year story in 70 minutes. It’s his story, about his troubled relationship with his late father, who gave him his love for music, in the form of a cookie-tin banjo. What a remarkable testament to family and fortitude, with heart-achingly beautiful music and guitar-playing fireworks. And the St James’ downstairs cabaret space is the perfect venue for it. An absolute must-see!
In my arms is my guitar, my greatest source of joy.
For the life that I have now, I’m grateful to my father
Who gave the gift of music to his boy.
It started with a simple home-made toy.
I also had the pleasure of hosting a post-show Q&A, and receiving a guitar history lesson, with Benjamin after The Lion. Have a listen and flick through the photo gallery in my separate Q&A event blog here.
Southwark Playhouse is a two-minute walk from my flat and it has become one of my favourite theatres, especially for new musicals in its 240-seat thrust-stage main space. I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights here in June and found it thrilling to be surrounded, indeed engulfed by, the pulsating action.
Dogfight – book by Peter Duchan, music and lyrics by Ben J Pasek and Justin Paul – is another UK premiere of another contemporary American musical, produced by dynamo Danielle Tarento, who had such a hit with the UK premiere of another contemporary musical, Titanic, in the same space last year.
On the eve of their deployment to Vietnam, a group of young Marines have one last blow-out in San Francisco. Surprisingly, at least for me, the “dogfight” of the title does not refer specifically to their battlefield actions, but rather to a cruel ritual in which the men compete to bring the ugliest woman they can find as a date to a party.
It’s hard to understand how anyone could classify sensible and pretty Laura Jane Matthewson (played Rose) as a dog, but some of my own worst high school insecurities came screaming to the surface as I watched her plight. Whatever the Marines’ wartime heroics or sacrifices, it doesn’t excuse such callousness in my book. But Jamie Muscato’s Eddie is redeemed.
Shooting changes things pretty quickly.
As a military brat myself, whose father served three tours in Vietnam and whose nephew is now in Afghanistan, I was touched by the bravado and camaraderie of the young Marines in Dogfight. And choreographer Lucie Pankhurst’s depiction of them fighting and falling is wonderful
Streetcar Named Desire
At this stage, the main thing to know about A Streetcar Named Desire is that you CAN still see it.
Though all advance tickets have long sold out, the Young Vic has instituted its first-ever day lottery for this production. The Young Vic takes names for lottery applicants – who must go to the theatre in person – every day at 5pm with names drawn at 5.30pm for that evening’s performance (1 for 1.30pm for matinees), with a limit of two tickets per lottery winner. You can also join the returns queue if you have no luck with the lottery.
In Benedict Andrews’ modern-set production, the sex and brutality of the relationships in Tennessee Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play are clearer than ever. Stella (Vanessa Kirby) seems less deluded and bullied by Stanley (Ben Foster), than she is willingly and happily blinded by lust for him – and, as a result, complicit in Blanche’s fate.
There are things that happen in the dark between a man and a woman that sort of make everything else seem unimportant.
As for Gillian Anderson’s Blanche, you just don’t want to take your eyes off her. This is a stealthy cougar with sharp claws, aggressively sexual and fatally wounded by rejection.
Certain aspects of the play don’t work so well in Andrews’ modern setting, and the director’s choice to use the stage resolve incessantly adds little, but there’s no doubt that his interpretation has breathed new life into another classic.
My Night With Reg
Tragically, playwright Kevin Elyot passed away on the first day of rehearsals for this first major London revival of his 1994 play. He was involved in auditions, though, and I am certain he would be very proud and pleased with the resulting performances from this cast and with Robert Hastie’s sensitive production overall.
Set in London in 1985, My Night with Reg revolves around three gay men, old school friends, Daniel (Geoffrey Streatfeild), John (Julian Ovenden) and Guy (Jonathan Broadbent), who has always been secretly in love with John. We never meet Reg, but his ravenous libido, and various characters’ “nights” with him, wreaks havoc amongst the group at the height of the Aids epidemic. The action between these three – along with three other gay friends, played by Lewis Reeves, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock – takes places over a number of gatherings in Guy’s flat, all peppered with some stingingly sharp dialogue.
’Even the vicar told me what a good f**k he was outside the crematorium’
‘No one’s come in their car’ ‘Speak for yourself’
‘I was in such a state, I put custard on my quiche’
‘I’m nearly 40 but my dick hasn’t dropped off’
‘Did you tell him you still have his jockstrap? Must be terribly rancid by now’
I read an interesting interview with Simon Callow recently about the effect of Aids on the gay community. Despite the horrendous human losses, he said, the disease had positive outcomes in terms of forcing people out of the closet and mobilising the community – with the eventual result being the de-stigmatisation of homosexuality. Reviving Elyot’s play, 20 years on and just after the legalisation of gay marriage, feels very fitting.
Unfortunately, if you haven’t already bought your tickets, you may struggle unless you’re patient enough to queue for daily returns. Pray for a transfer otherwise…
Updated Nov 2014: My Night with Reg transfers, with full original cast, to the West End’s Apollo Theatre for a limited season from 17 January to 11 April 2015.